8/16/2009 11:44:00 pm

Power and Grace

Posted by Tom French |

I went out for dinner last night with my churchies. I only had $5. I did mention this while people were making decisions but the people who heard it didn't seem that concerned. I also didn't say it very loud. I'm not sure that imposing my poverty on a group is really that friendly.

We ended up at a pizza and pasta place where the cheapest pizza was $16.50. I could however afford garlic bread. But Loz and Will were sitting opposite me and they both offered to cover my costs. This was most kind of them.

I ordered a Hawaiian pizza. When all our meals came it turned out that me and the guy next to me were the only people who had ordered a whole pizza. Everyone else was sharing. That was a little embarrassing. The poorest guy orders the biggest meal.

I made sure I ate the whole pizza to justify the buying of it. I felt a little full, but you have to keep up appearances. Though it may have looked a little like: "The poor guy never gets to eat. Look at how he ate the whole pizza. It's probably the first thing he's eaten all week."

The whole process of having my whole dinner brought for me was rather stressful. I don't like having people pay for stuff for me. I'm rather independent and I like being independent. To be at the stage where to eat like everyone else you need other people to pay for you is not independence. At least not when they actually pay for you. If I really wanted to be independent I could have just gone home, or bought the garlic bread or shopped at Woolies and sat outside the restaurant with my $5 worth of Fantastic Noodles.

But having things bought for you is good for you. I've always advocated that as Christians what just as important as learning to show grace is learning to accept grace. I've talked about it often. I may have blogged about it, I definitely preached about it.

I've always felt that we need to learn not to argue when people offer to buy stuff for us, to pay for our drink, or do us a favour. Not to say "I'll pay you back", "I'll get the next round", "I owe you one". Just to say "Thank you."

And I was getting alright at that. At least at not arguing too much. And just accepting. Although I'd often say things like "I'll pay for you next time." just to make myself feel better.

But last night caused me much more consternation. I think the problem we have with accepting grace is the power imbalance it creates. The one giving grace is the powerful one, the person receiving it is the weak one. We love to show grace, to pay for things, to shout drinks, because it feels good, it is good and we look good. But when we accept grace we can look weak, poor, and dependant. We don't like to be people who can't look after themselves.

In the past when people have paid for stuff, I've accepted it. Often it's ok because it's been part of my quest to understand grace better by accepting grace better. But I've also been able to rationalise it in my head and think to myself "I could have paid for that if I needed to" or "I didn't need that but it's a nice gift." I have been able to reduce the power imbalance in my head so that taking grace has not been so humbling.

But last night was different. The was no way to talk myself out of it. I have no way of paying back people. I had no way of paying for my dinner. I have no spare money in bank accounts. I literally had $5 in my wallet and $3 in the bank. I cannot say "I'll pay next time" or "I'll pay you back" (Though at one stage I did say a feeble "When I'm rich I'll take you guys out to dinner"), because I don't know if I will be able to do either of those. The power imbalance was real. I was powerless, they were powerful. It wasn't just an exercise in politeness or learning about grace. It was just me having to accept other people doing for me what I couldn't do for myself. There was no pretence in this grace. I really am just poor (relatively) and to do life with my friends I need help.

And that bugged me. I want to be strong. I want to be self-sufficient. I want grace to be a lifestyle choice not a necessity.

But having to accept grace on other people's terms is good for me. Because grace isn't really that impressive when the grace your shown you could have done for yourself.

The gospel is not about a God who knew we could rescue ourselves but thought he'd just save us the effort. It's not a polite exchange between equals. The power imbalance is real and eternal. We have no way of saving ourselves. Our sin is too great, our goodness too impotent. We are totally in need of God's forgiveness and redemption because we can never attain them ourselves. In Jesus' death and resurrection he pays the way because we are totally spiritually and morally bankrupt. Our only hope is Jesus.

We need to learn to accept grace not as people who choose it because it's the best option available but because it's the only choice we have. We do not come to God as equals but desperate paupers. The only status we have beyond that is status that has been bestowed upon us by the grace of God who gives us every spiritual blessing in Christ.

And that is what I learnt about last night through my Hawaiian pizza. Grace hurts because it humbles us. But grace is amazing because it saves us.

Thanks for the pizza folks.

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